Saturday 22 June 2019

#CBR11 Book 30: "Headstrong: 52 Women Who Changed Science - and the World" by Rachel Swaby

Page count: 288 pages (but I only read about half)
Rating: 3 stars

From Goodreads:
Fifty-two inspiring and insightful profiles of history’s brightest female scientists.

In 2013, the New York Times published an obituary for Yvonne Brill. It began: “She made a mean beef stroganoff, followed her husband from job to job, and took eight years off from work to raise three children.” It wasn’t until the second paragraph that readers discovered why the Times had devoted several hundred words to her life: Brill was a brilliant rocket scientist who invented a propulsion system to keep communications satellites in orbit, and had recently been awarded the National Medal of Technology and Innovation. Among the questions the obituary—and consequent outcry—prompted were, Who are the role models for today’s female scientists, and where can we find the stories that cast them in their true light?      

Headstrong delivers a powerful, global, and engaging response. Covering Nobel Prize winners and major innovators, as well as lesser-known but hugely significant scientists who influence our every day, Rachel Swaby’s vibrant profiles span centuries of courageous thinkers and illustrate how each one’s ideas developed, from their first moment of scientific engagement through the research and discovery for which they’re best known. This fascinating tour reveals these 52 women at their best—while encouraging and inspiring a new generation of girls to put on their lab coats.

This is the first book in more time than I can accurately (we're talking several years) that I actually ended up not finishing. It just feels like utter failure and I hate having to do it. It's not even that it's a bad book. I got it from the library to qualify for my "Diversify your reading" challenge, which for March was Science and Technology. This book seemed both interesting and important and I really did enjoy learning about the women in the first half of the book, but I also pretty much had to force myself to pick the book up to read a few more chapters every few days or so, until suddenly the return date was looming and I couldn't renew the loan, and before you know it, a big ol' DNF.

I really do believe that we need more women involved in science and technology and it's absolutely horrendous how for so much of history (and still occasionally) women's work in these fields gets ignored or credited to men. So I feel like a bad feminist for not being able to even read about these ladies' achievements without it feeling like assigned homework and an absolute chore. Yet again I've had it proven to me that with a very demanding job (which involves me reading multiple drafts of usually not very well written essays and/or stories in both Norwegian and English, giving feedback on them and grading them) as well as taking care of a boisterous now sixteen-month-old toddler (who also brings home all manner of crud and illness from his nursery - he usually doesn't get too ill, but my husband and I have alternately or simultaneously been knocked out with various colds, coughs, at least one bout of noro virus, which doesn't exactly help boost one's energy levels), I simply do not have the energy or attention span for anything too intellectually taxing. I need brain fluff, and lots of it.

I debated with myself whether I should even allow myself to review the book, but I figured that 1) I did read more than half. 2) I really don't have the output this year to even let half a book go to waste if I'm going to manage to complete a double Cannonball and the other various reading challenges I'm doing. It's also quite cathartic to admit one's failures. In conclusion, this is probably a very interesting and informative non-fiction book if you're in the right mindset for it. It just sadly wasn't right for me.

Judging a book by its cover: I really wish I could tell you more about which women are featured in the little bubbles all over this cover, but the only one I recognise is Hedy Lamarr. That in itself is probably a reason I should have finished the book (not that the e-book version I got from the library had pictures of the ladies, at least not as part of the chapters).

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

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